Die trying, p.7
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       Die Trying, p.7

         Part #2 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
slower 1  faster
Chapter Seven

  THE MATERIAL USED to pack the twenty-two-inch cavity between the outside of the old walls and the inside of the new walls was hauled over from its storage shed in an open pickup truck. There was a ton of it, and it took four trips. Each consignment was carefully unloaded by a team of eight volunteers. They worked together like an old-fashioned bucket brigade attending a fire. They passed each box along, hand to hand, into the building, up the stairs to the second floor. The boxes were stacked in the hallway outside the modified corner room. The three builders opened each box in turn and carried the material into the room. Then they stacked it carefully into the wide spaces behind the new softwood framing. The unloaders generally paused for a moment and watched them, grateful for a moment of rest.

  The process lasted most of the afternoon, because of the amount of material and the care they took in moving it. When the last of the four loads was stacked upstairs, the eight volunteers dispersed. Seven of them headed for the mess hall. The eighth stretched in the last of the afternoon sun and strolled off. It was his habit. Four or five times a week, he would take a long walk on his own, especially after a period of heavy work. It was assumed to be his way of relaxing.

  He strolled in the forest. There was a beaten path running west through the silence. He followed it for a half-mile. Then he paused and stretched again. He used the weary twisting motion of a tired man easing a sore back to glance around a complete circle. Then he stepped sideways off the path. Stopped strolling. Started an urgent walk. He dodged trees and followed a wide looping course west, then north. He went straight for a particular tree. There was a large flat rock bedded in needles at its base. He stood still and waited. Listened hard. Then he ducked down and heaved the rock to one side. Underneath was a rectangular shape wrapped in oilcloth. He unfolded the cloth and took out a small handheld radio. Pulled the stubby antenna and hit a button and waited. Then he whispered a long and excited message.

  WHEN THE OLD building was quiet again, the employer stopped by with some strange new instructions. The three builders asked no questions. Just listened carefully. The guy was entitled to get what he wanted. The new instructions meant a certain amount of work would have to be redone. In the circumstances, not a problem. Even less of a problem when the employer offered a cash bonus on top of the bid price.

  The three builders worked fast and it took them less time than it might have. But it was already evening by the time they finished. The junior man stayed behind to pack tools and coil cables. The crew chief and the other guy drove north in the dark and parked exactly where the employer had told them to. Got out of their truck and waited in the silence.

  "In here," a voice called. The employer. "All the way in back. "

  They went in. The place was dark. The guy was waiting for them, somewhere in the shadows.

  "These boards any use to you?" the employer asked.

  There was a stack of old pine boards, way in back.

  "They're good lumber," the employer said. "Maybe you can use them. Like recycling, you know?"

  There was something else on the ground beside the stack of boards. Something strange. The two carpenters stared. Strange humped shapes. The two carpenters stared at the strange humped shapes, then they stared at each other. Then they turned around. The employer smiled at them and raised a dull black automatic.

  THE RESIDENT AGENT at the FBI's remote satellite station was a smart enough guy to realize it was going to be important. He didn't know exactly how or why it was going to be important, but an undercover informant doesn't risk a radio message from a concealed location for no reason. So he copied the details into the FBI computer system. His report flashed across the computer network and lodged in the massive mainframe on the first floor of the FBI's Hoover Building in Washington, D. C. The Hoover Building database handles more new reports in a day than there are seconds, so it took a long moment for the FBI software to scan through and pick out the key words. Once it had done so, it lodged the bulletin high in its memory and waited.

  At exactly the same time, the system was logging a message from the FBI Field Office in Chicago. The bureau chief up there, Agent-in-Charge McGrath, was reporting that he'd lost one of his people. Special Agent Holly Johnson was missing, last seen twelve o'clock Chicago time, whereabouts currently unknown, contact attempted but not achieved. And because Holly Johnson was a pretty special case, the message carried an eyes-only code which kept it off every terminal in the building except the one all the way upstairs in the Director's office.

  THE DIRECTOR OF the FBI got out of a budget review meeting just before seven-thirty in the evening. He walked back to his office suite and checked his messages. His name was Harland Webster and he had been with the Bureau thirty-six years. He had one more year to run on his term as Director, and then he'd be gone. So he wasn't looking for trouble, but he found it glowing on the monitor of his desktop terminal. He clicked on the report and read it through twice. He sighed at the screen.

  "Shit," he said. "Shit, shit, shit. "

  The report in from McGrath in Chicago was not the worst news Webster had ever had in thirty-six years, but it came pretty damn close. He buzzed the intercom on his desk and his secretary answered.

  "Get me McGrath in Chicago," he said.

  "He's on line one," his secretary told him. "He's been waiting for you. "

  Webster grunted and hit the button for line one. Put the call on the speakerphone and leaned back in his chair.

  "Mack?" he said. "So what's the story?"

  McGrath's voice came in clear from Chicago.

  "Hello, chief," he said. "There is no story. Not yet. Maybe we're worrying too early, but I got a bad feeling when she didn't show. You know how it is. "

  "Sure, Mack," Webster said. "You want to confuse me with some facts?"

  "We don't have any facts," McGrath said. "She didn't show for a five o'clock case conference. That struck me as unusual. There were no messages from her anywhere. Her pager and her cell phone are out of commission. I asked around and the last anybody saw of her was about twelve o'clock. "

  "She was in the office this morning?" Webster asked.

  "All morning," McGrath said.

  "Any appointments before this five o'clock thing?" Webster said.

  "Nothing in her diary," McGrath said. "I don't know what she was doing or where she was doing it. "

  "Christ, Mack," Webster said. "You were supposed to take care of her. You were supposed to keep her off the damn streets, right?"

  "It was her lunch break," McGrath said. "What the hell could I do?"

  There was a silence in the Director's suite, broken only by the faint hum on the speakerphone. Webster drummed his fingers on his desk.

  "What was she working on?" he asked.

  "Forget it," McGrath said. "We can assume this is not interference by a Bureau suspect, right? Doesn't make any kind of sense in her case. "

  Webster nodded to himself.

  "In her case, I agree, I guess," he said. "So what else are we looking at?"

  "She was injured," McGrath said. "Tore up her knee playing ball. We figure maybe she fell, made it worse, maybe ended up in the ER. We're checking the hospitals now. "

  Webster grunted.

  "Or else there's a boyfriend we don't know about," McGrath said. "Maybe they're in a motel room somewhere, getting laid. "

  "For six hours?" Webster said. "I should be so lucky. "

  There was silence again. Then Webster sat forward.

  "OK, Mack," he said. "You know what to do. And you know what not to do, case like hers, right? Keep in touch. I've got to go to the Pentagon. I'll be back in an hour. Call me then if you need me. "

  Webster broke the connection and buzzed his secretary to call his car. Then he walked out to his private elevator and rode down to the underground parking lot. His driver met him there and they walked together over to the Director's bulletproof limousine.

  "Pen
tagon," Webster said to his driver.

  TRAFFIC WASN'T BAD, seven-thirty on a June Monday evening. Took about eleven minutes to do the two and a half miles. Webster spent the time making urgent calls on his mobile. Calls to various locations within such a tight geographical radius that he could probably have reached them all by shouting. Then the big car came up to the Pentagon River Entrance and the Marine sentry stepped over. Webster clicked off his phone and buzzed his window down for the identification ritual.

  "The Director of the FBI," he said. "To see the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "

  The sentry snapped a salute and waved the limousine through. Webster buzzed the window back up and waited for the driver to stop. Then he got out and ducked in through the personnel door. Walked through to the Chairman's suite. The Chairman's secretary was waiting for him.

  "Go right through, sir," she said. "The General will be along in a moment. "

  Webster walked into the Chairman's office and stood waiting. He looked out through the window. The view was magnificent, but it had a strange metallic tint. The window was made of one-way bulletproof Mylar. It was a great view, but the window was on the outside of the building, right next to the River Entrance, so it had to be protected. Webster could see his car, with his driver waiting beside it. Beyond the car was a view of the Capitol, across the Potomac. Webster could see sailboats in the Tidal Basin, with the last of the evening sun glinting low on the water. Not a bad office, Webster thought. Better than mine, he thought.

  Meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was a problem for the Director of the FBI. It was one of those Beltway oddities, a meeting where there was no cast-iron ranking. Who was superior? Both were presidential appointees. Both reported to the President through just one intermediary, the Defense Secretary or the Attorney General. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was the highest-ranking military post that the nation had to offer. The Director of the FBI was the highest-ranking law enforcement post. Both men were at the absolute top of their respective greasy poles. But which greasy pole was taller? It was a problem for Webster. In the end, it was a problem for him because the truth was his pole was shorter. He controlled a budget of two billion dollars and about twenty-five thousand people. The Chairman oversaw a budget of two hundred billion and about a million people. Two million, if you added in the National Guard and the Reserves. The Chairman was in the Oval Office about once a week. Webster got there twice a year, if he was lucky. No wonder this guy's office was better.

  The Chairman himself was impressive, too. He was a four-star general whose rise had been spectacular. He had come from nowhere and blitzed upward through the Army just about faster than his tailor could sew the ribbons on his uniform. The guy had ended up lopsided with medals. Then he had been hijacked by Washington and moved in and made the place his own, like it was some military objective. Webster heard his arrival in the anteroom and turned to greet him as he came into the office.

  "Hello, General," he said.

  The Chairman sketched a busy wave and grinned.

  "You want to buy some missiles?" he said.

  Webster was surprised.

  "You're selling them?" he said. "What missiles?"

  The Chairman shook his head and smiled.

  "Just kidding," he said. "Arms limitation. Russians have gotten rid of a bomber base in Siberia, so now we've got to get rid of the missiles we assigned against it. Treaty compliance, right? Got to play fair. The big stuff, we're selling to Israel. But we've still got about a couple hundred little ones, you know, Stingers, shoulder-launch surface-to-air things. All surplus. Sometimes I think we should sell them to the dope dealers. God knows they've got everything else they want. Better weapons than we've got, most of them. "

  The Chairman talked his way around to his chair and sat down. Webster nodded. He'd seen Presidents do a similar thing, tell a joke, tell a lighthearted story, man to man, get the ice broken, make the meeting work. The Chairman leaned back and smiled.

  "So what can I do for you, Director?" he asked.

  "We got a report in from Chicago," Webster said. "Your daughter is missing. "

 
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